The Top 100 Songs of 2020, Part Two: 80 – 61

Welcome back, y’all. First up, if you missed part one: Don’t worry! You can click right on these underlined words right here and you’ll be magically whisked away to it.

And now, on with the show!

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80. Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys – 5am

If you’ve seen Caitlin Harnett live (if you live in Sydney, you almost definitely have), you’ll know “5am” is hyper-literal, single-entendre storytelling. The lyrics details exactly what happened with an old fling of Harnett’s, and couldn’t be more specific if it tried. Such is her everywoman ability, however, Harnett makes it easy to step into her R.M. Williams. The alt-country swagger exudes from the rustic guitars and its Levon Helm-esque drums, while the chorus is about as pop as it gets while still keeping its Akubra on. Bonus points for Andy Golledge’s exceptional guest harmonies, too. Stay gold, Pony Boys.

79. EGOISM – Happy

Although it was the fourth single from the Sydney duo’s second EP On Our Minds, “Happy” existed in the band’s live show well over a year prior. It undertook quite the journey to get to where it ended up on record, however, including a restructuring and a freshly-minted rhythmic calibration. As such, it took a moment to get used to the song in its new context. Ultimately, however, the song didn’t lose its heart – just as well, given that’s kind of EGOISM’s forte. Atop of shimmering guitars and amidst impeccable harmony, “Happy” endeavours to turn that frown upside down.

78. Pillow Queens – Holy Show

As much as we remember explosive album intros, there’s a lot to be said for openers that take time and ascend through steady builds. Indeed, Kacey Musgraves once opined she’s “alright with a slow burn” on an album opener just so. Pillow Queens aren’t comparable otherwise – they’re Irish, for starters, and genuine indie darlings as opposed to poptimist shrapnel. Still, they’re on the same wavelength as far as “Holy Show” is concerned: Reverb-heavy, captivating in its grandiose slow-mo reveal and arrestingly harmonious. You’re now prepared for In Waiting – which, not for nothing, is one of the year’s best.

77. Lily Morris – Grand Illusions

Much is made of class tourism in Australian music. Those that live in the proverbial big smoke are chided for attempting to appear as though they’re not. You won’t have that trouble with Lily Morris, who resides in the Southern Tablelands and knows all the ins-and-outs of the three Rs: remote, rural and regional. “Grand Illusions” captures a moment in time – it is to middle Australia what “Streets Of Your Town” is to Brisbane; encapsulating a specific place with focus and attention to detail. It’s the new sound of dolewave in the slashed Newstart era, making the ordinary extraordinary.

76. Vacations feat. Sarah Sykes and Craterface – Panache

Newcastle indie kids Vacations had a weird year – like, weirder than most. They ended up as unexpected stars of TikTok, and then decided that a near six-minute song with a completely unrelated AutoTune outro would be an ideal single from their new album. And guess what? They were right. Sure, it’s defined by the framework of its unexpected collaborators – Sunscreen‘s Sarah Sykes, as well as alternative hip-hop duo Craterface. Simultaneously, however, “Panache” reflects Vacations’ sonic evolution and their grander-scale ambitions, as guitars take a backseat in favour of glassy synths and disco-ready basslines. Groove is in the heart.

75. Weezer – Hero

We’re at least 15 years removed from Weezer being permanently written off. Why, then, do they insist on writing these late-period power-pop smashes while no-one’s looking? It’s like The Singing Frog, where the titular character will only perform for this one guy. Everyone else gets a meagre croak – read: “Africa.” This, from the long-delayed Van Weezer, churns along with walls of guitar and some classic Pat Wilson drum muscle. It then gives way to their best chorus in years. It’s another ode to innocence lost, but it still feels as fresh as when Weezer actually were kids and outcasts.

74. Hockey Dad – Itch

For a band defined by its youthful exuberance, it’s a rare moment to find them – to borrow a phrase – in this state. They arrive at “Itch” an emotional wreck, exhausted by the world around them and pushing their last burst of energy into burning the whole thing down around them. The howled chorus of “I’m okay/I feel safe” serves as one of the year’s most strongly antithetical musical contrasts. The desperation to this song serves as the band’s biggest musical departure since its inception. To release it as a single was bold, certainly, but ultimately a much-needed push.

73. EGOISM – You You

A word so nice, they sang it twice. Really, it’s pretty impressive that only a select few had chanced upon this double-up before – and even then, Odetta Hartman and Malaria! didn’t lay out the titular phrase the same way. In a sense, that sums up a lot of what makes EGOISM great – they hone in on established ideas and give them a new home in which to flourish, tweaking them to the point of being quintessentially theirs. Few other bands in Australia carry such a confident stripe of identity, and even less can forge such pristine, impeccable indie-pop.

72. Party Dozen – Auto Loser

The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney once said The Stooges’ “Down on the Street,” quote: “makes [him] wanna walk the streets with a switchblade.” Listening back to the song’s snarling one-note groove and four-on-the-floor strut, you understand exactly where he’s coming from. One gets the feeling he’d say the same about fellow two-piece Party Dozen, who here ostensibly turn “Billie Jean” into a noise-jazz dark alleyway. Rather than splatter the canvas as they normally do, P12 instead colour between the lines. It’s out of character, but they still have a wide palette to draw from – and they’re still making masterpieces.

71. AC/DC – Shot in the Dark

The bar was admittedly the lowest it’s ever been for Acca Dacca on their umpteenth comeback trail. Still, for Angus and co. to return in such a confident, definitive manner – in their 70s no less – left jaws agape. “Shot in the Dark” is, for all intents and purposes, the best lead single the band have delivered since the almighty “Thunderstruck” nearly 30 years ago. The unstoppable force of the returning Brian Johnson is propelled along by the immovable object that is the returning Phil Rudd – all while Angus lays down one of his hardest, bluesiest riffs yet.

70. Dua Lipa – Break My Heart

Another one bites the dust every time Dua Lipa steps up to the mic. Jilted exes, playboy pretenders, her pop contemporaries – truly, she’s evolved into a proper force to be reckoned with. Still, this doesn’t mean she’s let herself off the hook entirely. Yes, even the hottest pop star on the planet – in every sense – is prone to make mistakes in the throes of the club. He looks like her next mistake, but she can’t help herself. Especially if there’s a state-of-the-art disco groove being laid down at the same time they lock eyes across the room.

69. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion – WAP

68. Tired Lion – ~Cya Later~

The first time that Tired Lion did Like a Version on triple j, they covered Violent Soho’s understated “Saramona Said” with a dash of the Smashing Pumpkins’ opus “1979” teased for good measure. “~Cya Later~” feels like figurehead Sophie Hopes’ attempt to create a song of her own that melds the musical and thematic structures of both. It certainly helps having an actual member of Soho in her back pocket (Mikey Richards plays drums here), but even putting that aside you’re looking at one of the year’s most resplendent, heartfelt odes to apathy. A post-grunge apocalypse never felt so inviting.

67. Bugs – Can’t Get Enough

Forget the semantics of pub rock, indie rock, garage rock… Bugs make power-pop. Clear-cut, straight down the line power-pop. “Can’t Get Enough” is a career-best demonstration of that – hell, its opening “WOOOO” is timed directly for both the first pool cannonball of the summer and the first stagedive once restrictions lift. With a spring in its step and just the right amount of distortion layered atop its major chords, the single effortlessly bounds from its twinkly verses to its bunny-bounce chorus. It even throws in a shit-hot bridge, just for the fuck of it. Now they’re just showing off.

66. Cry Club – Don’t Go

What took you so long? “Don’t Go” was, ostensibly, the first Cry Club song – in spite of “Walk Away” being released first, way back in 2018. For whatever reason, the duo could never get the song on the good foot. Enter Gab Strum, AKA Japanese Wallpaper, who assisted the band in dragging the song kicking and screaming out of the doldrums. When that big-business chorus rolls through town with its 16th-note hi-hats and pulsing guitars, you’re so thankful they gave it one more shot. Not only is it an album highlight, it’s living proof of patience as a virtue.

65. Squid – Sludge

“Sludge” starts off decently enough; a sort of subdued take on the “House of Jealous Lovers” beat with some steely bass locked it. Once drummer/vocalist Ollie Judge goes into the red levels, screaming about scraping his teeth off the floor, however? Shit gets crazy. Car-alarm synths take over, a ride cymbal is hit so hard it sounds like it’s splitting in two and the one-chord jam somehow goes even harder than it had been before. You know those viral videos on YouTube or Instagram or whatnot with the caption “WAIT FOR IT”? That’s “Sludge,” in a nutshell. Behold: Disco’s inferno.

64. Dry Cleaning – Scratchcard Lanyard

Usually when a band is referred to as the best new band in Britain, it’s some sort of hype puff-piece tacked onto another Arctic Monkeys also-ran whose career ultimately proves to be as asymmetrical as their haircuts. There’s something different about Dry Cleaning, though. For one, they probably don’t want to be the best new band in Britain. They’re detached, deadpan and distant by design, and it’s perhaps this very notion that draws listeners to them. “Scratchcard Lanyard” deepens the band’s ties to proto post-punk, all while weaving an increasingly-complex post-modern narrative in tandem. Their audience loves it. Don’t you?

63. Car Seat Headrest – Hollywood

We knew this era of Car Seat Headrest was gonna be weird the second that Will Toledo chucked on a gas mask and started referring to himself as “Trait.” The rhetorical of just how weird, however, would ultimately receive an answer in the form of “Hollywood.” Imagine coked-up millennials getting their hands on the riff from The Sonics’ “Have Love Will Travel,” cranked up a drum machine over the top of it and launched into a tirade about good ol’ Tinseltown. A disaster on paper, sure, but in execution it made for one of their most fun singles to date.

62. ONEFOUR – Home & Away

“Home & Away” hits as hard as brass knuckles to the jaw, man. It’s proper staunch trap, with the group’s flow impressively filling out the beat’s nooks and crannies with both vitriolic wordplay and hyped-up ad-libs. The song reflects on ONEFOUR’s saga, with the kind of twists and turns you’d normally expect from a soap opera but are unfortunately all too real. Key members are still serving in prison, meaning there hasn’t been an official ONEFOUR show in over a year. Still, no matter where they are, ONEFOUR are our shining stars. Don’t let them go. Let them stay forever.

61. Vacations – Lavender

Songs are often praised for lacking “bells and whistles,” so it’s honestly easy to forget that such excesses can actually be a lot of fun. Does “Lavender” need that weird tape-loop effect on its guitars? Does it need the flurrying undercurrent of bongos and percussion? Of course not. You wouldn’t want this song without it, though – it’s in the ivy league of prep-indie indulgence, and its doubling down deserves to be commended. Plus, isn’t that chorus just to die for? Feels weird to be yearning for the days of Yves Klein Blue and Last Dinosaurs, but here we are.

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Listen to the entire DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:

Come back next week for part three!

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